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The holiday company chairman who personally saw off every flight - close to 18,000 in all - has died. Peter Bath, a pioneer of package tourism and chairman of the Bath Travel chain, was 79.

The entrepreneur expanded the family business, a single travel agency in Bournemouth, to more than 50 branches. His tour operation, Palmair, started its 50th season this year.

The company's departure airport is Bournemouth, close to the family home. "P J", as he was known, made a point of going to the terminal to send the plane and passengers on their way.

On one occasion when a technical fault made a late departure certain, he told passengers: "It'll be at least another two hours, so any of you who want to can go home and mow the lawn."

Bath often waved to arriving aircraft from his garden, which lay beneath the flight path. In 1993, Bath started his own airline, also called Palmair, two years before Stelios Haji-Ioannou founded easyJet. Unlike the no-frills airline's rapid expansion, for the first 10 years Bath kept the Palmair operation to a single plane.

It was voted Britain's favourite airline in a Which? survey, ahead of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. In the same survey in 2005, it was beaten worldwide only by Singapore Airlines.

Palmair now has two Boeing 737s. Bath ordered a row of seats to be removed from each aircraft, to increase legroom. He also insisted that frills such as hot meals and allocated seating remained. Even so, there are seat-only bargains for as little as £49 one-way to island destinations such as Madeira and Corfu.